Tomato Madness 2014, The End is Nigh

Eric's iPhone oct2014

Tomato Madness 2014I

This year I planted over 50 plants of about 20 or more varieties out of my seed collection of tomatoes.  I mostly focus on indeterminate cherry tomatoes.  I have about 16 varieties what I have collected and then plant random tomato seeds folks have given me.   I used Grow Box system to grow them a learned a lot about pushing the limits of space, time, and nutrients.  I like the grow boxes a lot, especially as a cheaper alternative to EarthBox system.

I did learn some important lessons, on how to raise tomatoes in boxes, because I had a number of problems.  Problems included black blossom rot, boxes tipping over, and overly verdant plants causing access issues.  So what learned is as follows:

  • You must add fast acting garden lime to your boxes when you set them up in the spring, the instructions for Grow Box has this as a little tip for tomatoes.  Because of the high nutrient and moisture level you need something to control the pH, and supply enough calcium to the tomato plants.  Not doing this can lead to black blossom rot.
  • Don’t over plant the boxes the way I did.  Each box should only have 2 tomato plants in them, I planted 6.  The plants grew and had fruit, but the boxes needed to be watered about every-other day.  The plants were stunted and thin on average.
  • Keep the tomato plants watered properly after fruit has set.  I like to stress my plants a little, it makes for better flavor. Once fruit is ripening, even one dry day can result in black blossom rot in the tomatoes, especially some older heirloom types.
  • You need to have external support for the plant, or at least the support needs to touch the ground outside of the box.  Especially since I over planted the boxes with so many plants, when the grow box dried out it got tippy, and some fell over in a breeze.  I didn’t use The Garden Patch Staking Kit, but it could end up being tippy if the box dries out.
  • Placing the boxes when the plants are small close together has problems, because it becomes a dense morass once they are waist high, and you can’t get to the watering hole access when they are boxes behind boxes.
  • Stake the plants when you plant them, I had to do a lot of extra work over the season, staking, re-staking, and then finally building a frame, see image, over the lot and do drop lines to give them enough room to grow.  But since this was my first time using the boxes, a new method, and in a new location I should just chalk it up to experience.
  • Even in BAD tomato year this system is pretty fool proof.  Although next year might have issues with black spot.  I need garden solutions to give people that just want a simple way to grow good veg, and this is pretty good.
  • Cost and Benefit analysis; I got about 40 pounds of tomatoes out of the 50 plus plants I planted, and this was a bad year.  This year it comes out to about $11.32 per pound of high-grade tomato, and I didn’t even pick the green ones yet. Here’s how it breaks down:
    • 10 Grow Boxes                                    $299.99
    • 2 Bails Pro Grow Mix                               69.00
    • Fast acting garden lime                             4.98
    • Conduit, rebar stakes, & misc. hardware         ~46.00
    • Conduit bender (had one)                           -0-
    • Garden twine                                          ~12.00
    • zip-ties                                                      ~6.00
    • seed, from stock                                          -0-
    • water                                                       ~15.00
    • TOTAL                                                  $452.97/40# = $11.32
  • This being the first year of harvest, that on par with one of my favorite gardening books The $64 Tomato, which taught me to figure out based on cost per pound of produce glean from the garden.
  • Pest’s NONE!  I saw a horned tomato caterpillar moth on my plants earlier in the season.  But I have seen no significant damage, or caterpillars.  Maybe because it was not an organic setup this year, next year I will try organics.
  • Other issue, lot’s of black blossom rot, and black spot on a couple of the older varieties.  Some is due to stressing the plants to much, before I just filled up the reservoir every other day.  I will try to come up with an organic spraying protocol for next year.  Plus with more space between the plants I should be able to keep the plant’s foliage drier.

The square foot garden, newly built this year too, is mostly kale, sun-chokes, herbs, and flowers but it produces a lot of stuff to.  Plus, some salad boxes, and a green wall with salad greens, but those are other stories.  On the whole I am happy with the results, but won’t over plant next years (6:2), and will probably plant some other things in the boxes too.

Probably, next year will plant a bunch of black prince cherry tomato, gardeners delight cherry, a new white/yellow random tomato, Hillbilly Tomato (really good), tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), yellow pear shape, and a roma tomato seed line I have going. We had so many tomatoes this year I gave a bunch away, ate them in fresh tomato-basil salad mostly, and has a tomato-&-cheese sandwich or two.

Also, want to grow ground cherries (Cape gooseberry (Physalis var)) next year too, just had these outside of a restaurant, and loved them in my salad and a frittata.  Apparently, one plant is enough for a person, producing around 300 marble sized fruits in a season.  An that is all next year.

Overall it has been a fun gardening year, especially the Tomato Patch!

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